Lately I've had a troubling sense that there is a cancer growing in
IT departments these days. No, I'm not talking about constrained budgets,
poor alignment, hiring freezes or project failures. I'm not even talking
about the growth of outsourcing and offshoring. While these issues
are all real, there seems to be something even more toxic eating away
at our industry. What could possibly be more threatening to IT staffs
than offshoring? Fear of offshoring.
This faceless, nameless dark terror seems to be gnawing away at the
morale of IT professionals everywhere. They are filled with dread
that they are witnessing a major sea change in their fortunes. It
seems like the bursting of the tech bubble was more acceptable and
less threatening than the prospect of offshoring. Those jobs just
went away. They didn't go to some highly skilled engineers half a
world away who were willing to work for less pay.
wish I could quote Franklin Roosevelt and suggest that "we have nothing
to fear but fear itself." But I can't. I'm not going to join the ITAA
and the parade of economists telling us that offshoring is good for
us (perhaps collectively and only in the long run) and that we should
welcome it with open arms. I'm not so sure about that. Although management
consultants like me are often heard chanting the "embrace change"
mantra, I'm not sure that I want to snuggle up to this one.
But frankly, whether I like offshoring doesn't really matter. It's
here, and it's not going away. Although the legal remedies being batted
around Washington and various state capitals may slow the trend, no
one can stop the relentless march of work across borders. We created
IT to enhance the efficiency and mobility of labor, and it seems to
But the natural and reasonable fear that this sort of metamorphosis
brings seems a more immediate threat to our organizations than the
change itself. Even though some estimates suggest that as many as
6% to 20% of IT jobs may eventually be moved, a relatively small percentage
is directly affected by offshoring today. The fear of being on the
losing end of this transformation is much more pervasive and immediately
debilitating than the longer-term threat.
As a manager of a technical group, there are things that you can do
to help alleviate the distractions and tensions that result from industry
trends like this that are largely beyond the control of any of us.
Address the issue openly. Once a concern has entered the consciousness
of a group, ignoring it won't make it go away. The fear of the unspoken
is much more intense than the fear of an issue openly discussed. If
you're going to experiment with offshoring, explain the purpose of
the experiment. If you are going to do a major project, explain the
boundaries around the project. Otherwise, the rumor mill becomes an
echo chamber, and the scenarios played out there are probably much
more imaginative and damaging than anything that might actually happen.
Plan for the future. A group without a clear understanding of its
future imagines that it has none. Even if you're not sure what the
future will bring, plan for what you can foresee. If you can't foresee
much, develop a scenario and go with that. All plans are provisional
and can be changed, but the disquiet of indecision can last a very
Work for the future. A while back, I was asked to take over a group
of IT professionals who had suffered a major leadership defection.
I was constantly being asked, "Are we going to shut down this office?"
I didn't really know, but I was sure that if people kept quitting
at the current pace, it was much more likely. So we all went to work
recruiting new staffers to replace those who had left. Once they were
involved in this optimistic work, the questions and resignations stopped.
When it comes to offshoring, there may be nothing we can do to slow
its progress. But if we let our fear of it diminish our productivity,
the trend will only accelerate. So while it may not be the only thing,
one of the biggest things that we have to fear is fear itself.
(This article originally appeared in Computerworld USA and Computerworld
About the Author:
Paul Glen is the author of "Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead
People Who Deliver Technology" (Jossey Bass Pfeiffer, 2002) and Principal
of C2 Consulting. C2 Consulting helps clients build effective technology
organizations. Paul Glen regularly speaks for corporations and national
associations across North America. For more information go to http://www.c2-consulting.com.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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